From Ohio History Central
John Hunt Morgan was a prominent Confederate cavalry officer in the American Civil War.
John Hunt Morgan was born on June 1, 1825, in Huntsville, Alabama. His parents were wealthy slaveholders. In 1830, the family moved to Lexington, Kentucky. Morgan attended Transylvania University in Lexington for two years before he was expelled for dueling. He fought in the Mexican-American War and reached the rank of first lieutenant in a cavalry regiment. Following the war, he returned to civilian life.
With the beginning of the American Civil War, Morgan enlisted in the Confederate army. He began his new career as a captain of Kentucky volunteers. He first served under General Simon Buckner and led the Lexington Rifles into battle. Morgan quickly proved to be an able cavalry leader and served under General Braxton Bragg's command during late 1862 and early 1863. Bragg sent Morgan and his command on raids against the Union army's supply depots and transportation lines. Morgan's men destroyed millions of dollars worth of supplies throughout Kentucky and Tennessee. At Hartsville, Tennessee, in December 1862, Morgan succeeded in capturing an entire garrison of Union soldiers. The Confederate government promoted Morgan to brigadier-general after this victory.
Morgan's most famous wartime exploit was his raid into Indiana and Ohio during July 1863. On July 8, 1863, Morgan led approximately two thousand soldiers across the Ohio River into southern Indiana. Morgan's superiors had dispatched the cavalry leader into northern Kentucky to cause disorder among the Union forces in the area. Morgan exceeded these orders by crossing north of the Ohio River, but he did create turmoil for the United States army.
Crossing into Indiana, Morgan's Raiders spread false rumors that the Confederates intended to attack Indianapolis, Indiana. Rather than doing this, the men spent five days in southern Indiana, procuring supplies and horses from Union civilians. On July 13, as the Indiana militia descended upon Morgan's men, the Confederates entered Ohio, near the Hamilton-Butler County line. Morgan led his men to the outskirts of Cincinnati, where he spent the night of July 13-14, within sight of the Union Army's Camp Dennison. The next day, Morgan divided his men. He sent a small group through Warren, Clinton, Fayette, Ross, and Jackson Counties, while the main force traveled through Clermont, Brown, Highland, Pike, and Jackson Counties. The larger group crossed the Scioto River at Piketon and proceeded to Jackson, where it reunited with the smaller detachment. The reunited Confederates proceeded east through Jackson, Gallia, Vinton, and Meigs Counties, in an effort to reach the Ohio River.
On the night of July 12, Ohio Governor David Tod issued a proclamation, calling out the Ohio militia to protect the southern counties from Morgan's Raiders. Many militiamen did not hear of the proclamation in a timely manner. The Confederates faced little opposition until July 18, when they encountered a small earthwork, defended by Ohio militiamen. Severely outnumbered, the militiamen retreated under the cover of darkness. However, their presence had allowed Union cavalry, under Brigadier-General E.H. Hobson, to catch up to the Confederates. Union General Ambrose Burnside also had sent Union soldiers and gunboats to patrol the Ohio River. Morgan's men attempted to cross the Ohio River at a ford near Buffington Island. The Confederates succeeded in getting a small number of men across the river before Union gunboats and soldiers under Hobson and General H.M. Judah arrived.
A battle ensued at Buffington Island. The Union force numbered approximately three thousand men, while Morgan's Raiders included 1,700 soldiers. Some uncertainty exists about the battle. Morgan hoped to lead his men across the Ohio River, and Union soldiers and gunboats intercepted him. Morgan did not file a battle report, and the Union officers involved left out many details in their final reports. Estimates for the number of wounded or killed Confederates range from fifty-two to 120 men. Union soldiers captured an additional eight hundred to 1,200 men. Among the captured men was Morgan's brother-in-law. Union soldiers lost twenty-five men in the battle, including Daniel McCook of the Fighting McCooks and patriarch of the Tribe of Dan.
Morgan's remaining men managed to break through the Union lines and continued in a northerly direction along the Ohio River, hoping to find a place to cross. Twenty miles from Buffington Island, Morgan's Raiders found an unprotected crossing. Several hundred of the Confederates succeeded in crossing the river before Union gunboats arrived. Morgan and his remaining soldiers retreated westward through Meigs and Gallia Counties and then moved in a more northeasterly direction through Vinton, Hocking, Athens, Perry, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Carroll, and Columbiana Counties. At Salineville, in Columbiana County, Union Cavalry under the command of Major W.B. Way and Major G.W. Rue surrounded Morgan's Raiders and succeeded in capturing Morgan and most of his command. Morgan's capture marked the end of his raid of the Union.
The Union soldiers took Morgan and most of his captured men to Columbus. The enlisted men were confined in the Camp Chase Confederate prison camp. Morgan and several of his officers were held at the Ohio Penitentiary. Morgan arrived there on October 1. He and several of his men immediately made plans to escape. They tunneled out of a cell into an air-shaft on November 13, 1863. They remained in their cells until November 27, when Morgan and six of his soldiers used the air-shaft to reach the prison yard. They then fashioned a rope from their prison uniforms and scaled the wall. Utilizing some of the one thousand dollars that his sister had smuggled into the prison inside a Bible, Morgan purchased a train ticket to Cincinnati. He then made his escape across the Ohio River into Kentucky.
Morgan's Raid netted few positive results for the Confederate military. It did provide some hope to Confederate civilians that their military could still succeed following the Northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in early July 1863. It also caused fear among Indiana and Ohio residents and cost several of these people some personal property that the raiders had seized. Almost 4,400 Ohioans filed claims for compensation with the federal government for items that they lost to the Confederates during the raid. The claims amounted to 678,915 dollars, with the government authorizing compensation in the amount of 576,225 dollars. While the Confederates succeeded in instilling fear in the civilian population, the raid inspired many of these people to fight even harder to defeat the Confederacy. In addition, the Confederate military lost an entire division of veteran cavalrymen. Morgan also failed to destroy any railroad tracks, bridges, or supply depots. The raid caused no significant harm to the transportation and communication infrastructure of the Union. The raid had as many negative effects as positive ones for the Confederacy.
After his escape, Morgan returned to the Confederate army. He led cavalry forces in Tennessee and Kentucky. On September 4, 1864, Union soldiers surrounded a farmhouse near Greenville, Tennessee, where Morgan was staying. The Confederate general attempted to escape from the house, but was shot by the Union soldiers. Morgan died from his wounds.
General John Hunt Morgan is buried in Lexington, Kentucky.
- Ambrose Burnside
- David Tod
- American Civil War
- Buffington Island
- Mexican War
- Fighting McCooks
- Tribe of Dan
- Battle of Buffington Island
- Camp Dennison
- Ohio Penitentiary
- Columbus, Ohio
- Ohio River
- Morgan's Raiders
- Athens, Ohio
- Butler County
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Greenville, Ohio
- Meigs County
- Ohio Militia
- Scioto River
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- Thomas, Edison H. John Hunt Morgan and His Raiders. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975.